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No more 'waiting to fail'

In July of 2007, the Lake Park-Audubon School District approved what was then a somewhat radical idea -- provide extra help for struggling students in kindergarten, first and second grades.

The conventional approach was to essentially wait until those children to fail, then put them in special education programs later in elementary school to try to get them caught up.

Most of those students never left special education once they entered it.

The new program, called Response to Intervention, aimed to lower the percentage of special education students at LP-A, which usually hovered around 13-15 percent of the student population, said Superintendent Hogie.

Teachers have found that intervention at an early age often results in a student catching up to peers, and staying caught up, Mark Everson said Thursday in a report to the school board.

Everson is a school psychologist for the Lake Agassiz Special Education District, which includes LPA, Ulen-Hitterdal, Hawley and, Barnesville.

Eighty to 90 percent of students learn adequately from their classroom teacher, Everson said.

Another 5-10 percent need supplemental instruction, which means about 20-30 minutes a day of extra reading time.

Another 1-5 percent need intensive individual interaction.

Oral reading fluency, or how many words a student can read in a minute, has shown to be an excellent gauge of their overall reading skills, Everson said.

That gives teachers a quick way to track student reading ability and provide help as needed to get them on track and keep them caught up with peers.

"We're not a wait-to-fail system anymore. We want to catch them before they fail," Everson said.

That means various students receive different levels of help off and on as needed. Once they are caught up, the extra help is directed elsewhere.

The biggest leap in reading skills for all students occurs between first and second grades -- and that's where the program has been extremely effective, Everson said, using charts and graphs to illustrate the success that young LP-A kids are seeing in reading.

"I'm so impressed by the efforts of our first- and second-grade teachers," he said. "We've gone from 62 percent of our kids on target in Grade 2 last year to 69 percent this year. A few years ago we were at half that."

First-grade teachers are Kristen Frank, Stacey Stalberger and Maria Amundson.

Second-grade teachers are Shana Schwan, Steph Schoenfelder and Kristina Gordon.

The idea came from several teachers who were getting their master's degrees and implemented the program as part of those studies, Hogie noted.

The going may get a little tougher in the next few years, since the district is seeing more new students in poverty or with special needs.

As a general rule, kids with very low family incomes enter school less prepared and more in need of services, Everson said.

"Where we start is a good measure of where we finish," when it comes to student learning, he said.

First-grade teachers said the new program is often embraced by parents, who can see dramatic improvement in their children's scores on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis.

Success breeds success and encourages families to put more energy into reading at home, they said.

Hogie said the Title I personnel instrumental to the success of the Response to Intervention program are Sandy Vetter, Tammy Langworthy, LeeAnn Buttino, Debbie Binde, Carol Ricke, Ashley Sleen, Marcene Carlson, and Danielle Elker.